Ruminating about off-field football troubles at The Citadel

It’s been a busy and occasionally difficult time for yours truly, which partly explains the lack of recent posts.  With regards to the Rice/Starks situation, I also wanted to wait and see how things shook out.  As it is, things haven’t become that much clearer as of late, but I figured I could make some comments about what we know right now.

They aren’t earthshaking observations, to be sure, but I wanted to weigh in on the matter in a little more detail.  I’m going to concentrate on just a few points.  There are two issues worth addressing that I’m not going to mention right now, because I simply don’t have enough information (not that I have any extra-special info on what I’m actually going to write about).

Before I delve into the recruitment of Reggie Rice and Miguel Starks, I wanted to briefly focus on an article in The Post and Courier from March 10 written by Schuyler Kropf. On the whole, I don’t have a big problem with the media coverage of the Rice/Starks arrests, but this particular piece gave me pause.

Kropf interviewed several alums, asking them about how the arrests might affect The Citadel’s image.  All fine and good, and he got on-record quotes from three different graduates, one of whom I actually know.  Kropf apparently could not get anyone to go on record with a “gloom and doom” quote, however, so he had to do what any intrepid reporter does when faced with such a dilemma.

He got quotes from anonymous message board posters.

Seriously, that’s what he did.  I had to read the article a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

I’m not completely sure Kropf understands the nature of message boards.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose, but it strikes me as poor reporting.  For one thing, how sure is he that the posts he quotes are from actual graduates of The Citadel?

Now, maybe he did some checking, or asked permission from the posters in question before quoting their comments, but even then can he really be sure they are who they say they are?  (He certainly didn’t indicate that he had confirmed anyone’s identity.  Heck, he didn’t even mention the usernames associated with the quotes.)

Kropf was unable to get a negative quote from any current cadet (or alum) on the record, although he did write this, a time-honored crutch for a struggling scribe:

…several cadets declined to speak about the mood inside the ranks, quickly turning their heads around to see if anyone had seen them talking with a reporter.

With all due respect, Mr. Kropf, get over yourself.

Now, as it happens, the two message board quotes in the article are, I believe, from actual alumni of The Citadel.  I can’t guarantee that, but I’m fairly sure — but then, I’m an occasional poster on that forum myself, and thus may be able to differentiate from regular posters and “trolls”.  Whether Kropf can do so is another matter.

That particular message board doesn’t have nearly as much traffic as you would see from forums devoted to larger schools. Sites such as InsideMDSports or  Phog.net may have several thousand members, with hundreds of posters online at one time, while thelordsofdiscipline.net has slightly over 500 registered members, with about a dozen of them online at extreme “peak” times.

What that means, among other things, is that when you have an event like the Rice/Starks arrests, the board is arguably more susceptible to being overwhelmed by people posting as fans of the school who aren’t really fans, just to stir things up.  It’s been known to happen.

Kropf could easily have wound up quoting a 13-year-old posing as a graduate of The Citadel.

There is obviously a big difference between getting something on record from a living, breathing person and grabbing a comment from the internet.  The first line of the article stated, “Whether The Citadel has an image problem depends on who’s doing the talking.”   Well, not only does the article not adequately identify those behind part of “the talking”, it doesn’t identify them at all.

It appears to me that the reporter wanted to write the story from a certain angle, but could not get the confirming quotes he needed, so he took a cheap way out.  In my view, that is not quality journalism.

Should Reggie Rice have been admitted to The Citadel?  Based on what he has done since enrolling, the answer is no, but should have that been the answer all along?

For those not familiar with Rice’s history prior to receiving an athletic scholarship to the military college, this column gives the basic story:

During Rice’s senior season [in high school], he was spectacular. He had three 200-yard games, including one against perennial state power Lincoln County.

However, his final season was cut short when he was suspended after eight games following his arrest and subsequent guilty plea in juvenile court to a statutory rape charge. Rice [was] tried in juvenile court because the three girls involved were deemed to have been willing participants.

Rice was placed on 24 months of probation and ordered to perform 56 hours of community service. He was given something else after the 2006 incident: a second chance.

Several area leaders went to bat for Rice, and even assisted in him being admitted to The Citadel, where he had been offered a football scholarship.

Early on during his career as a cadet, it appeared Rice was redeeming himself…

There was a racial aspect to the statutory rape case.  Rice (and one of the other males involved) were black, the girls white, and some in the community felt the charges were only brought due to race.  It appears that some of those “area leaders” quoted in the piece thought he was being more or less railroaded, including a superior court judge (and graduate of The Citadel) who sent the case back to juvenile court.

Tangent:  if you think you’ve heard a similar tale before, maybe you have.  I was reminded of another, more notorious case in Georgia, one that involved Marcus Dixon (now of the Dallas Cowboys).

Besides being a fine football player, Rice was intelligent and personable.  He impressed a lot of people, including the aforementioned judge and, later, a prominent businessman in the Charleston area (and alumnus).  It has been interesting to read comments from people — experienced “men of the world” types, presumably naturals at spotting a fraud — who liked Rice, trusted him, and were shocked at his subsequent problems.  Some people might call Rice a born con artist, or maybe even a sociopath.  I don’t know what he is, and it doesn’t really matter now.

Given that background, should Rice have been admitted to The Citadel?  No, he should not have.  It should have been clear then, as it is now.  I lay the blame for that on the admissions office more so than Kevin Higgins, as Rice was in Higgins’ first recruiting class, and the coach would not have been that familiar with the school.  I think it is clear that General John Rosa believes Rice’s admission was in error.  From his March 4 letter to alumni:

As did many colleges in the country, The Citadel revised its admission application process following the tragedy at Virginia Tech. We now require more information from candidates. Additionally, if the director of admissions has any concerns regarding an application, he presents them to me for consideration before final action is taken.

In other words, “that’s not happening again.”

It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.  Most people understand that The Citadel is not a reformatory for wayward boys, but every now and then someone gets confused about the school’s mission and talks about its capacity to “redeem” a student.  In the first column I linked, note that the author says that “it appeared Rice was redeeming himself.”

There are schools, many of them very good schools, where Rice would have been a reasonable candidate for admission.  The Citadel is not one of them.  You don’t go to The Citadel for redemption, because that’s not what the college is about.  The Citadel “experience” tends to highlight your natural, innate personality traits, as opposed to developing others.

The Citadel, at its essence, is about testing yourself, and learning exactly who you are. This is a very good thing, because young men and women fresh out of high school usually have no idea who they really are.  It’s also about learning how to deal with pressure, and about perseverance.

It’s not a second-chance type of place.  Maybe Kevin Higgins didn’t realize that when he first arrived on campus, but there surely were officials in positions of authority who could have guided him.

I can’t give Higgins a pass for the recruitment (and subsequent “handling”) of Miguel Starks, however.  Starks was a project in more ways than one.  He was always the most impressive-looking player on the sidelines during a game, as he looked great in a football uniform.  At The Citadel, though, that’s not the most important uniform.

Higgins saw in Starks the potential of a special player, and treated him accordingly.  Higgins may have chosen to  overlook some red flags that were raised during Starks’ high school career.  Some of those apparently included being dismissed from the basketball team and being suspended for a playoff game (for an on-field fight).

There have been numerous complaints raised in various quarters that Higgins essentially “enabled” Starks at The Citadel, going to bat for him on multiple occasions when Starks got in trouble for not adapting to the military system.  When you give preferential treatment to a star (or potential star) player, you run the risk of alienating the corps of cadets, not to mention his fellow football players.  This may go a long way towards explaining some of the angst expressed by current cadets concerning corps squad issues.

Also, running interference for an athlete (or any cadet, for that matter) is ultimately a pointless exercise.  You can’t make a person want to make it at The Citadel — he’s got to want it for himself.  If he doesn’t, all the interceding and pleading in the world won’t make a difference.

Coaches at The Citadel have a learning curve when it comes to recruiting.  One of the key things they have to learn is that keeping attrition low often correlates directly to on-field success.  One of the important ways to prevent attrition is to recruit cadets who can become good players, as opposed to recruiting players and trying to make them cadets.  Sometimes it takes a coach several years before he figures that out.  There have been coaches at The Citadel who have never figured it out.

I’m not advocating firing anybody.  I’m fairly confident that this episode is an isolated incident.  However, I think coaches and administrators need to be put on notice.  It’s one thing to have a losing record on the football field.  At The Citadel, though, you better be undefeated off the field.  One loss off the field is one loss too many.

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